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Provo • When BYU football fans talk about important, game-winning moments in past rivalry games with Utah, they invariably bring up offensive plays. There was John Beck's touchdown pass to Jonny Harline with no time remaining on the clock in 2006, or Max Hall's 4th-and-18 completion to Austin Collie in 2007.
Many forget that one of the biggest plays was made by a Cougar defender, Jernaro Gilford, in 2001.
Gilford, the new cornerbacks coach at BYU after a two-year coaching stint at Southern Utah, picked off a Lance Rice pass to preserve a 24-21 win and No. 8 BYU's perfect record (11-0) after the Utes had reached the BYU 30 in the final seconds.
BYU had rallied from a 21-10 deficit with two fourth-quarter touchdowns, but the PAT kick failed after Luke Staley's 30-yard run, leaving Utah with a chance to tie in the final minute.
"Both teams made big plays throughout the entire game," Gilford recalled Monday. "I am just grateful I was fortunate enough to make the last play of that great game. That was the end of it."
Gilford made six interceptions that year, tied for 11th in single-season interceptions in BYU history. The Cougars won their next game, at Mississippi State, to go 12-0, but Staley suffered a fractured leg in that game and BYU was pummeled by Hawaii a week later.
"I tell everybody that there have been plenty of great moments before me and after me," Gilford said. "That's what the rivalry game usually comes down to, is guys making great plays."
Gilford got his first taste of the rivalry in 1999 three of his teammates from Westchester High in Los Angeles played for the Utes that year but its significance dawned on him in 2000, LaVell Edwards' last year, even though Gilford redshirted.
"That's when it came to me that, OK, this is a huge game," he said. "You have to bring your very best if you want to win."
Just as the five-game winning streak over BYU is ingrained in the heads of Utah fans, the Cougars' turnovers in recent rivalry matchups is a part of the conversation in Provo.
The numbers are ugly: In the past five games, BYU has committed 19 turnovers, Utah five. In the past 10 meetings, BYU has committed 28 turnovers, Utah eight.
Obviously, ball security has been a major point of emphasis at BYU this week.
"So looking to Utah, our mindset is the same," quarterback Taysom Hill said Monday, referring to a turnover-free outing in the 18-16 win over Arizona. "We will take our shots when we need to. We have some stuff prepared for what we expect to see from those guys. We will do our best to make sure it is a clean football game, just like it was against Arizona, knowing that turnovers are a big part of the game."
"We always emphasize ball security no matter what game it is, and it showed when we played Arizona," said running back Jamaal Williams, who hasn't fumbled in 521 career carries. "We had no turnovers, and that is what we expect from ourselves going into this next game."
Lasike makes list
Former BYU fullback Paul Lasike, now with the Chicago Bears, is on the watch list for the 2016 Polynesian Pro Football Player of the Year Award. Lasike, who is of Tongan descent, initially played rugby for BYU, but switched to football midway through his college career. He hails from Auckland, New Zealand.
Former Utes Star Lotulelei, Koa Misi and Nate Orchard are also on the list, along with Utah prep products Haloti Ngata (Highland) and Xavier Su'a-Filo (Timpview).
The Polynesian Football Hall of Fame's watch list for the College Player of the Year has not been released yet.
BYU at Utah, 5:30 p.m. MT
TV: Fox Sports